After the quitting of each autocratic leader, it is not hard for the immediate successor who is in control of necessary resources to create a new political wave.

After the retirement of Mahathir Mohamad, his successor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi created the so-called “Pak Lah phenomenon”, and won 90.86% of the Parliamentary seats in 2004 for Barisan Nasional (BN).

After the resignation of Taib Mahmud who is also known as “Pak Uban” and “Pek Moh” (white hair), his successor Adenan Satem who is also known as Tok Nan, creating an “Adenan fever”, and winning 87.80% of the Sarawak state assembly seats on 7th May 2016.

In the later days of Mahathir as Prime Minister, he had been facing accusations of dictatorship, cronyism and abuse of power, therefore as the “Good Guy” Pak Lah came into power, bringing along his Islam Hadhari ideology, he diverted the voters’ dissatisfaction towards the Mahathir regime, continuing to enable BN in ruling the Federal government with a two-thirds majority of the seats, thus achieving a historic election result.

Taib Mahmud’s tenure as Chief Minister was longer, and there were endless accusations against him on corruptions, cronyism, and abuse of power. Since Tok Nan came into power, he has put in efforts in his call for Sarawakian autonomy and in his making of a liberal or moderate image. Tok Nan’s cult of personality by the media is so overwhelming that those who are unfamiliar with politics would have mistaken him as a prominent federal leader.

National sovereignty vs Tok Nan-style of Sarawak autonomy

Under the constitutional orthodoxy of national popular sovereignty, the struggle for autonomy is regarded as highly sensitive by the federal regime. In the context of the new National Security Council Bill, one must be cautious in any urgings for autonomy for Sarawak. However the Najib Abdul Razak regime urgently needs to claim some credit from Adenan’s Sarawak victory, therefore he had to tolerate and cooperate with Adenan in his political narrative of a “Tok Nan-style of Sarawak autonomy”.

Adenan’s narrative of Sarawak autonomy focused on his continuous acts of banning Peninsular Malaysians from entering Sarawak. Based on media reporting, in the past one-and-a-half years there were at least 30 political and civil society individuals who were banned. On the eve of polling day of the Sarawak state election, Adenan even banned the Menteri Besar of Selangor, Azmin Ali – a head of state government.

In this state elections, the Adenan regime has obviously politicized the banning of West Malaysians into Sarawak. This is to fulfil the campaigning needs for the argument of Sarawakian autonomy, and also to answer the question of whether Sarawak under Tok Nan is able to continue Pek Moh’s strongman legacy in barring the West Malaysia-based UMNO from entering Sarawak, in order to prevent UMNO from reshuffling the Sarawakian politics, and exerting hegemonic control in distributing the resources in Sarawak.

The banning of West Malaysians not only addresses the collective psychosocial needs of the Sarawakian voters, but also to address the political needs of a rent-seeking as well as patronage culture under crony capitalism of the ruling regime.

Before the polling day of the Sarawak state election, The Economist published a ranking for “crony-capitalism index”, where Malaysia has moved up from third place two years ago to the second place. The report also showed almost all of the wealth in the country is crony wealth, with just a smidgen of difference between the two.

Media reporting in the past few months showed that before the dissolution of the Sarawak state assembly, everyone had expected the Adenan regime to continue, and were predicting the enterprises which will benefit from the contracts given by the ruling group and also the delivery of the benefits from rent-seeking activity.

Malaysiakini even followed up various promises of fund allocations and contracts made by the ruling group in this Sarawak election, and since the nomination day all sorts of fund allocations and promises (including election promises, as well as funds which were already allocated) have amounted up to RM500 million.

Different interpretations of Sarawak autonomy

In this state election, The ruling and the opposition parties have different types of political discourse regarding the autonomy for Sarawak, and even the West Malaysia-based BN and the Sarawak BN are having their own interpretations as well, bypassing the framework of UMNO’s doctrine of national sovereignty, following the pace of Tok Nan.

On 4th of May, three days before the polling day, five candidates from Parti Keadilan Rakyat’s, headed by its state vice-chairman See Chee How, made five demands to the Federal government, and three of them were closely related with the oil royalty, including the realization of 20% oil royalty for Sarawak, the annulment of Territorial Sea Act 2012, and the rescission of the 1974 tripartite Petroleum Agreement.

On the same day, after chairing the weekly federal cabinet meeting at Wisma Bapa Malaysia in Kuching, Najib said that now was not the right time for talks on increasing the oil royalty from 5% to 20% for Sarawak.

The autonomy for Sarawak is an important feature in the 18-point agreement proposed by Sarawak, prior to the formation of Malaysia in 1963. The Adenan regime’s action of banning West Malaysians from entering Sarawak is taken as related to the 18-point agreement, where Sarawak would maintain their jurisdiction in entry and exit affairs vis-a-vis immigration control. As for PKR’s demand for oil royalty, it is related to the state government’s jurisdiction over finance affairs.

Tok Nan’s narrative of Sarawak autonomy is illusory

Actually on 7th May 2014, during the sitting of the Sarawak state assembly, members from both sides made an unusual cross-partisan move being in agreement with each other, unanimously passing a motion demanding the Federal government to increase the current 5% oil royalty to 20%. This is an important move in the first 100 days of Tok Nan’s tenure as Chief Minister, yet before the polling day of Sarawak, Najib turned down this demand by the Sarawak state assembly, in front of him.

As now the election has ended, will Tok Nan’s narrative of Sarawak autonomy be materialized before the next General Election? Or the so-called autonomy for Sarawak is merely a show to ban the opposition and non-governmental organization (NGO) individuals from entering Sarawak?

We daringly deduced that even if the General Election is to be held next year, in the context of 20% oil royalty, Tok Nan’s narrative of Sarawak autonomy is purely illusory and will not be enforced.

Why? To the Najib regime, by recognising the Adenen regime’s jurisdiction over the immigration, does not affect the interest of the Federal government, and this “Adenan fever” does help in strengthening the Najib regime, albeit for a short period of time, and also being able to build up the false consciousness of the “Tok Nan’s style of autonomy” among the Sarawakian, so why not?

On the other hand, if the demand from the Sarawak state assembly is being approved, where the oil royalty is being allowed to raise from 5% to 20%, in terms of the importance of oil revenue towards the contribution to the national income, this is just as demanding decentralisation of concentrated power and resources from the Federal government. Furthermore, if autonomy is really given to Sarawak, this will affect the needs of UMNO in exercising their hegemony in Sarawak in the future.

Not giving excuses for warlords’ rebellion

Before the next General Election, if Najib is being forced to approve the oil royalty to 20% in order to fulfill his own needs for political survival, we think that the inner circle of UMNO which is so embedded within a system of crony capitalism will start a rebellion from within the party.

In the context of 1MDB and RM2.6 billion issues, Najib has gained control of the UMNO supreme council and majority of the UMNO divisions (bahagian) and Members of Parliaments (MP), in order to strengthen his own position, so there is no reason for him to give the Adenan regime 20% oil royalty at this moment, giving an excuse for an UMNO warlords’ rebellion.

After the Sarawakian people have given the Adenan regime another five-year mandate, the first thing they should do is to demand the Sarawak BN under the Adenan regime to submit a motion in the coming Dewan Rakyat sitting, demanding the Federal government to approve Sarawak’s demand for the 20% oil royalty, and mobilise the MP from all over the country to support this motion.

This is the first test of whether the Adenan regime can fulfill the autonomy for Sarawak.

Released by,
Ooi Heng
Executive director
Think tank
Political Studies for Change (KPRU)
12 May 2016

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